The OF Blog: First Convention/Festival: 2011 Southern Festival of Books

Friday, October 14, 2011

First Convention/Festival: 2011 Southern Festival of Books

The books I had signed at the 2011 Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.  The squirrel is impatient to read each and every one of them right now, but it'll have to wait...a short while.
 Until this afternoon, I had never been to any form of literary/genre convention or festival.  Nashville, despite being a major (mostly religious or music) publishing center, does not often attract the authors I enjoyed reading.  But this year, I decided I would explore attending at least one day of the 2011 Southern Festival of Books to see how the atmosphere was like.  My only regret after returning this evening is that I probably won't be able to go the other two days, for this was a lot of fun.

Due to the difficulty in finding traffic and the late start I got because I had to wait longer than expected for my books to be processed for trade at McKay's, I didn't get to the State Capitol area until roughly 1:30 PM, over 30 minutes later than I attended.  As a result, I missed Stewart O'Nan do a reading/Q&A session, but I did spend the time browsing the wares and buying all but two of the books pictured above (O'Nan's Snow Angels and Songs for the Missing I bought at McKay's; I've been meaning to read more O'Nan ever since I read his Last Night at the Lobster in 2009).  Finally, 2:00 rolled around and I went to the signing tables and after waiting in line for about 20 minutes, I got my books signed by O'Nan.  He was very personable and we joked about his affinity for the Pittsburgh Steelers (in a picture further down, he is wearing a #10 Cordell Stewart jersey), football in general, and then we talked a bit about the local book scene.  He even informed me that he heard that McKay's was moving to a new location where it would have double the floor space.  That was very pleasant/surprising news to me.

After the O'Nan signing, I went to the 2:30-4 PM talk on debut novels.  David Halperin (Journal of a UFO Investigator), Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding) and Justin Torres (We the Animals) read in respective order from their books.  Halperin, a Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, had a deep, almost gravelly voice.  His diction made me even more curious about the book that I had bought based on the blurb from Daniel Wallace (I attended a Nashville signing of his on my birthday in July 2007; great author).  Harbach's novel I had already read and although I remembered well the scenes he read aloud, I found that there was even more emotional depth due to hearing it aloud.  Torres was perhaps the accidental star of the reading.  He said he was very shy when it came to reading aloud and this came true in the way he read aloud.  Yet his passages were full of energy and narrative power and it was quite amusing to see the looks of consternation from the more elderly audience members when he read aloud the occasional f-bomb.  All three sounded wonderful and if I hadn't heard of the first two prior to this event, I certainly would have wanted to read their works after the reading.

Following the reading was a group signing at the designated signing tables.  I briefly expressed my admiration to each of them (spending a bit more time talking with Torres about a few small matters).  Since I only had Harbach's book in e-book format, I had to get him to sign the program guide (pictured below).  I do hope people will give all three a chance.  Almost forgot to add that an interesting thread in the readings/Q&As was the related thoughts on myth and belief.  Halperin referred to his own youth, wanting to be an amateur UFO investigator and how that early inquisitiveness was transferred to his academic studies into Judaic religious belief and symbolism.  Harbach discussed briefly the metaphor of baseball as a form of art and how such art can represent so many facets of human life (I'll just note here that his novel accomplishes this exploration deftly and with several poignant passages).  Torres kept referring to his love of myth and how that was internalized in some of the characters and how they were presented in his short novel.  He also noted that his love for poetry manifests itself in the way the prose is constructed.  Having read Torres as well, I can safely note that We the Animals certainly will be (along with Harbach's and perhaps Halperin's novels) featured in my year-end roundup of debut novels.

After the triple signing, I had to hurry across Legislative Plaza to the House Chambers to catch Donald Ray Pollock do a reading/Q&A.  I have reviewed favorably Pollock's first novel, The Devil All the Time, and I found the author conveyed the same direct, hard-hitting and yet sympathetic voice in his reading.  Although I missed significant parts of this reading/Q&A due to arriving late and then having to spend 5 minutes on a business call, I did catch Pollock's answer to the question of what genres he read.  He said that because he felt like he didn't have the formal education that some of the other writers had (he worked in an Ohio paper mill for much of his adult life before turning to writing), he made a point to read as widely as he could and to try and learn from a wide variety of authors, whether they be "genre" (here he discussed mysteries in particular, but he didn't exclude any from that term) fiction or non-fiction.  He said he tried to learn something from each of the authors that he read and he cited John Cheever and Flannery O'Connor as two (among others whose names I didn't quite catch) as major influences on how he approached fiction writing and characterization.  After his reading/Q&A, I got his signature while we chatted briefly.  Very down-to-earth person and someone (like the others) I would have loved to have had the time to interview face-to-face.  Maybe in the future, when I know more in advance what my own schedule would be like.

Below are a few of the pictures I took at the readings and photos of the inscriptions each wrote to me.  Hopefully, I'll get to do this again, as this was even more fun than I had anticipated.  Should also note that the crowds were wonderful and I had several brief discussions with people about the authors in whose lines we were at the time and what we thought of their stories, the Festival itself, and other odds and ends.  Very friendly crowd and the most expensive thing (besides the books themselves) was the $10 parking; the event itself was free and was sponsored by Humanities Tennessee.  If a similar event is in your local area, I would recommend you try it out.  Too bad I won't be able to make it to Saturday's events, as Erin Morgenstern, among others, is going to be there.  Maybe next time.

Chad Harbach

Justin Torres

Donald Ray Pollock (Stewart O'Nan is pictured to the left wearing a Steelers jersey)

Justin Torres' autograph.  He was very pleasant to talk with during the signing and his Q&A time was probably the most laugh-filled of the ones I got to attend today.
Donald Ray Pollock.  Missed part of his talk due to a business call, but he was very warm and gracious (as were all of the authors I talked with today).

Bought this O'Nan earlier at McKay's.  He and I chatted a bit about pro and college football during the signing.

Interestingly enough, O'Nan mentioned McKay's as a great place to buy used books.  Seems there will be a new Nashville location soon.

O'Nan's new book.  Likely will read this one first, then the others.

Found out Halperin used to work at UNC with Daniel Wallace, whose works I've enjoyed.  Looking forward to reading this one.

I already had Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding as an e-book, so he was gracious enough to sign this program guide for me.

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